Dylan Miller – Our third day in Havana, Cuba proved just as busy and fun as the first two days. To begin the day, the happily exhausted yet eager group loaded into our bus with our tour guide, William. Our first stop of the day was La Plaza de la Revolución. In the square, a giant metal visage of Ché Guevara plastered on the side of Ministry of the Interior building immediately caught my eye. Underneath Ché’s face are the powerful words “Hasta la victoria siempre” which translates to “Always until victory.”
The inescapable images of Ché as well as the powerful and patriotic quotes that paint the city of Havana add to the iconic status of Ché and use rhetoric to keep the ideas of the Revolution in the minds of all Cubans. This fascinating and highly analyzable phenomenon in Cuba became a reoccurring theme throughout the trip and occupied a lot of my thoughts.
After La Plaza de la Revolución, we headed to El Museo de la Revolución (The Museum of the Revolution). Outside of the museum, the tank that Fidel Castro personally used during the Revolution was proudly displayed. The museum was once the Presidential Palace during the regime of the dictator Fulgencio Batista before Castro came to power. Just as graffiti, propaganda, and constant references to Ché, Fidel, and the Revolution run rampant throughout the city, so too does it run throughout the museum. One of the museums proudest piece is the Granma, the yacht that Fidel himself rode over to Cuba from Mexico during the Revolution. Again, like La Plaza de la Revolución, Cuban nationalism and sentiment of the Revolution are the most apparent aspects of the culture.
From the museum, we visited the Cuban Institute for Friendship with the Peoples (ICAP). There we were greeted and briefed by a representative of ICAP. The ICAP representative explained to us that ICAP is an organization that works with the international community in order to form friendship through non-diplomatic means. After receiving an overview of the organization’s work and mission, we had a question and answer session. The meeting was interesting to say the least. It quickly became apparent that the representative of ICAP had an obvious interest and bias to protect. ICAP being a government organization (as most businesses and organizations in Cuba are) strongly defended the Cuban ideals such as blaming the embargo (or “blockade” as Cubans refer to it) for the low access to medication which is a common misconception that is promoted through governmental propaganda. It was this particular meeting that put not only the rest of our time in Havana but also our previous time in Havana completely in perspective. We started to notice the small but still significant effects of a communistic government.
Our last activity of our third day in Havana was a tour of Havana Vieja (Old Havana). From the moment we stepped off of the bus, we encountered another one of the effects of communism in Cuba. Many Cubans pick up second “jobs” in order to make up for the barely-enough sustenance the government supplies. We experienced first-hand one of these second “jobs” when we were approached by four Cuban women dressed in colonial period dresses and heavily-applied lipstick.
These four women came up to us, kissed us on the cheek as we took pictures, and then immediately after the photo was snapped they demanded money. Haggling, negotiating, and straight-up insisting led to some people in our group to fork out 20 CUCs (the convertible currency in Cuba used by tourists) a piece for a smooch and a picture. Those 20 CUCs that those women made in a matter of minutes greatly surpassed the average Cuban salary of about $20 per month. After the initial cultural shock, humor, and even downright frustration of losing 20 CUCs from the situation, we realized how communism was actually practiced in Cuba. This moment is when I personally began to understand certain political and economic policies that we have studied plenty in class but now had witnessed the results first hand. This, to me, is what immersion learning is all about.